The Good Children

Roopa Farooki’s novel is an amazing story of sibling love told across many generations and continents.  The mother is central to the novel but she is not the social centre of her family since she is the centre of her own world and sees her children only as far as they interest her or are useful.  The sons are sent away to medical schools in USA and England and the daughters have lives planned to enhance the way the world views their mother.  Around this woman, her two boys and two girls provide the heart that warms the novel.

When first sent away, neither Sulaman nor Jakie know how they will cope apart and both know that this is part of their mother’s plan.  Yet they build lives in their new countries and we follow their fortunes over several decades.  Jakie meets Frank and they become lovers, not easy to be gay or brown in a London of the time.  Sully in the States has less of his brother’s charm and is less sure of himself.  He finds love with a fellow researcher but her Indian- German background means she will never be accepted by his mother.

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The girls have different fates with Mae the only one to stay in Pakistan.  Her life starts in the conventional marriage but she breaks free. Lana gravitates to her brother in England where her place as the caring sibling finds a purpose.

I loved this book, the sections about Frank and Jakie most of all.  Their relationship against the odds was the most affecting part for me.

The mother is always present but the book shows how the children have grown without, or despite, her.  In the final scenes they are back together again in Lahore gathered for an important family occasion.

‘The Good Children’ by Roopa Farooki is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Tights for Men in Japan

Tabio is a Japanese company that manufactures socks and tights.  There are outlets in London but the company is based in Japan.  This winter season advice is being offered to the men of Japan on how to keep warm under their business suits.

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Tights and leggings are the answer to those winter days!  Tabio sell leg wear that is designed to fit beneath the suit trousers- not so much a fashion statement as a practical solution to the cold days.

Also on offer, for the more adventurous are the patterned leggings to wear with shorts.  These are definitely designed to be seen.

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Cultural differences such as these are in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Wandering Son 7

The manga series continues to impress.  Mostly, this is because the experience of a young boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who identifies as a boy are played out slowly over many volumes.

I have reached volume 7, published in English by Fanatagraphics.  Shimura Takako’s words have been translated by Matt Thorn so that we can people like me (who don’t read Japanese) can understand the story of Nitori and Takatsuki and their ongoing conflicts with identity.

Conflict is probably too strong a word since both children would be very happy if the world around them was more accepting.  For Nitori the first signs of acne bring new concerns about his growing body.  The pupils at the school embark on another gender bending play and the ski trip provides another backdrop for the young people to try out their identities.

The story works for the most part because the two main characters are so sweet.  Their friendship group is something of a mixed bag and I have to admit to finding some of the girls around them both a little melodramatic.  On the edge of the story is Seya, a boy whose interest in Nitori is confusing to them both.  As this unfolds, the complications of gender, identity and friendship should further intertwine.

The ‘Wandering Son’ manga series is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

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A Place Called Winter

BlogPlaceWinterSomething perverse happens when Patrick Gale publishes a new novel!  I buy it immediately and then wait for an extended time before reading it.  This is odd because the wait for the next book always seems longer than necessary (why is he taking so long?) yet once I start reading, I know I will get through it as quickly as possible and emerge from the pages back with another long wait for another new novel.  It has been this way for some years.  I started with ‘Rough Music’ having heard the author speak at the Bath Literature Festival.  I then read my way through what was then his back catalogue.  This was a satisfying experience but, once exhausted, there was the frustration of waiting for Patrick Gale to write another book.

Love is where it falls, as I have always believed.  This novel shows the truth of this saying through the story of Harry Crane, a product of his English upbringing in a society that protected traditions and felt threatened by anything that deviated from the norm.  The time is 1908 and, although in a loving family with his wife and daughter, the attraction and excitement he feels for another man proves too strong and he starts a relationship that is, in the context of the time, criminal in nature. When exposed, he faces public humiliation or exile.  He chooses exile and gives up his wife and daughter to hide in Canada, a place where his sexuality will surely not feature or cause him a problem.

The British Empire proved useful as a way of removing embarrassing problems from the homeland.  How many men trod the path of Patrick Gale’s character?   Harry may have chosen exile to avoid dishonour.  His former lover, an actor, retreats to the continent without giving Harry a second thought.  Canada, though, has men and love is where it falls so part of the joy of this novel is hoping that the attraction between Harry and his neighbour in the town called Winter will lead somewhere satisfying for both of them.

This is the early part of the Twentieth Century though and war is around the corner; happiness may not be on the agenda.

What is satisfying about a Patrick Gale novel is the way other characters and minor plot diversions serve the purpose of the main story.  In this book, the reflections of a recovering Harry show the diversity of the human condition and illuminate the way in which people who are different are treated.  A minor character here is the Two Spirit Native American who finds that a modernising Canada has no room for her.

I am back to the waiting game.  When will the next Patrick Gale come along?

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

This novel by Ben Fountain was one of my favourite reads of the last year. Telling the story of a young soldier, the Billy Lynn of the title, the book shows the effect of wartime action on the young men who are expected to reflect the aspirations of the American public, the ones fighting wars from the comfort of their sofas.

BlogBillyLynnBilly is part of Bravo Company.  He and his comrades have seen action in Iraq and have acquitted themselves well.  They return to the USA as heroes and we see, through Billy’s eyes, how the war against terror is seen by those who don’t have to fight it.  Now part of the propaganda machine, Bravo Company are expected to perform the part of heroes even when, like Billy, they have no idea how heroes should behave or even why they are seen in that light.

During the course of one day, when the soldiers are guests at an American Football game in Dallas, Billy reflects on his time as a soldier, the reasons for joining the army, his relationship with his family and his imminent return to Iraq.  All the while, a film producer hovers painting a picture of the film that he intends to make of Bravo Company’s heroic exploits.

The novel shows how cheap the political slogans are when thrown at people who have experienced the reality of war but it also shows that soldiers cherish the comradeship over all else; their loyalty is more to each other than to any cause.  This is demonstrated through the character of Billy’s sergeant who may be dead, dying in Billy’s arms back in Iraq, but who is all too present with the group in spirit and in the legacy of his advice and command of his company.

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Still the Water

BlogStillWaterThis Japanese film from director Naomi Kawase slowly unfolds to tell the story of two teenagers who seek comfort in each other.  Kyoko is the more confident of the two but her mother is dying and, although her father and the community rally around to ensure the end is a dignified one, there is no escape from the incredible pain she is going through.  Kaito is the boy next door, less sure of himself and feeling the fall out of his parents’ split.

When a dead body is washed up on their island, the connection between Kaito’s mum and the dead man cause more ripples in the community.  Kyoko wants to have a physical relationship with Kaito is reluctant.  He tells his mother what he thinks of her relationships with men and demands to see his father back in Tokyo.

The waves crashing against the beach feature throughout suggesting that the water is anything but still.  Life on the island continues after Kyoko’s mother’s death and Kaito finds an accommodation with his mother.  The final scene of the naked swim, used in the film poster, acts as a metaphor of coming to terms with their situation.

This film, which was entered at Cannes in 2014, is a film to wash over you.  Particularly affecting were the two young lead actors: Nijiro Murakami and Jun Yoshinaga.

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‘Still the Water’ is in my hinterland.

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The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford is a Treasure House

After an absence of about thirty years, I took the journey back to Oxford to visit the Pitt Rivers Museum. This anthropology museum remains a fascinating place and was just as I remembered it.  I am sure it has been through many changes but entering through the doors at the back of the University’s Natural History Museum is like stepping back in time.

I remember the national museums in London looking just like the Pitt Rivers in my youth but modern changes and views about accessibility and communication have resulted in better displays with less crowded display cabinets. Here, the artefacts are packed in and the dark rimmed cabinets look as if they are from a different age.  There is a sense that the items on display speak for themselves and do not need cards of information for the public to understand.

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The whole world is here, or so it seems.  Artefacts are grouped by concept rather than country but all continents of the world are represented with items from Africa and Asia being the most stunning.  It was hard to see the wood for the trees at times and it was the overall impression of awe and wonder rather than individual pieces that I found stunning. However, I was struck by the beauty of the Benin palace plaques.  The rest… it washed over me, in the most positive possible sense.

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The collection was started by Lieutenant General Pitt Rivers who donated about 15,000 items to the University of Oxford.  As was the case with Victorian Empire builders, his easy access to far flung parts of the world enabled him to amass a collection of some size and worth.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?